2012-2013 Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview
The Milwaukee Bucks have the sort of roster that feels like it should be playoff-worthy, but they’ve missed that particular train for two years in a row. A full season with Monta Ellis running alongside Brandon Jennings could help remedy that, but are either one of those guys in the team’s long-term plans? That’s just one of many questions surrounding Milwaukee this season, but despite all the uncertainty they’ve actually got a chance to be a pretty interesting team.
HOOPSWORLD takes a look at the 2012-13 Milwaukee Bucks:
Five Guys Think…
This is really a hard team to get a feel for. Some trades have to be inevitable because right now there’s too much duplication of talent at certain positions. Trying to get everyone to fit together into a cohesive unit has to be a nightmare that keeps Coach Skiles up at night. He’s on the final year of his deal and may not last through the season. Bucks’ management hasn’t done him many favors. They’re undersized, especially in the backcourt with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. They have a glut of forwards and a lot of money tied up with them, yet the positions aren’t necessarily a strength of theirs. All signs point towards a grueling season in Milwaukee. They’re capable of topping the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, but since they have more potential it’s hard to project Milwaukee finishing anywhere other than the cellar.
5th Place – Central Division
– Yannis Koutroupis
After blasting their way into relevance a couple of seasons ago, the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be on a downward spiral. The latest piece of smooth steel in the slide was the trade that sent Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Monta Ellis. Out went one of the top centers in the NBA, now replaced with Samuel Dalembert, who is not. The Bucks will score a lot of points with Ellis and Brandon Jennings in the backcourt, but they will also give up a lot of points without Bogut down under to help protect the rim. The Bucks won’t be as bad as Detroit in the division, but as the team is constructed they don’t appear to be a playoff team, either.
4th Place – Central Division
– Bill Ingram
The Milwaukee Bucks nearly made the playoffs last year, but landed back in the lottery after late season struggles. This summer, the Bucks added Samuel Dalembert and John Henson to improve their frontcourt and, if all goes as planned, Milwaukee should be in the playoff hunt once again. Last year, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis didn’t have much time to jell due to the midseason trade and limited practice time. If Jennings and Ellis can get on the same page and coexist this season, they could form one of the more talented backcourts in the entire league. Also, Jennings and Ellis are both in the contract years so they’ll be entering this season with something to prove. The Bucks are intriguing and they could grab one of the final seeds in the Eastern Conference.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Alex Kennedy
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings form one of the most explosive backcourts in the NBA, and plenty of defensive-minded additions mean this should be a more well-rounded team than a year ago. With Derrick Rose missing most, if not all, of the upcoming season for the Chicago Bulls, a top-two finish in the Central is ripe for the picking. The Bucks have a lot to prove, both individually and as a team, and 2012-2013 would be the perfect year to prove it.
2nd Place – Central Division
– Joel Brigham
The Milwaukee Bucks missed the playoffs for the second-straight season in 2012. The team is also occupying a place most franchises hate to be associated with – the middle of the pack. If the right breaks bounce their way the Bucks could sneak into the postseason as an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, but the roster lacks the firepower to advance past the first round. So, the Bucks are basically at a crossroads; either strive for the playoffs or invest in playing some of their younger talent such as Tobias Harris and Larry Sanders more frequently even if it means sacrificing a few victories while letting the youngsters find their way.
3rd Place – Central Division
– Lang Greene
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Flip a coin between Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, because both are equally prolific scorers. They only played together for about a third of the 2011-12 season, but between the two of them they’re good for almost 37 points a night. Both guys also average over 5 apg, which is a good thing, but neither is necessarily known for court vision. True, either player can go off for 30 any given night, but they do force the issue at times, which can slow the offense down. Still, this is one of the nastiest offensive backcourts in the game today, and getting a full training camp and a normal 82-game season together should help them form more chemistry this year.
Top Defensive Player: While he only plays 23.5 minutes a game, Luc Mbah a Moute is the best defensive guy Milwaukee has on its roster. He’s a good rebounder and a really aggressive defender, and along with new additions Samuel Dalembert, Joel Przybilla and John Henson, this Bucks team should be a much better defensive unit in the coming year. They weren’t particularly great on that end of the floor last season, but Mbah a Moute has always been a bright spot as a defender.
Top Playmaker: Again, an argument could be made for Ellis and Jennings, as both players love to be the one handling the rock and creating shots. We’re probably going to talk all year about whether these two players can coexist, but the easiest way to support the negative is by pointing out that both want to play on the ball and neither has the size or skill to defend NBA shooting guards. These are explosive players to be sure, but the dynamic is kind of weird and isn’t likely to clear up much this season unless one of these two players ends up traded.
Top Clutch Player: With time winding down in a close game, the point guard is going to bring the ball up the floor and then decide what to do with it. Since Brandon Jennings is technically the point guard, and since Monta Ellis has only played 21 games as a Buck compared to Jennings’ 218, Milwaukee would probably lean towards Jennings taking that last shot. Either guy is capable (and both guys have done it before), but the slight edge goes to Jennings here, at least in theory.
The Unheralded Player: This is a roster filled to the brim with unheralded players, but the best of the batch is probably Ersan Ilyasova, who got a new five-year, $40 million deal over the summer. While that probably removes him from consideration as an “unheralded” player, he’s still largely underappreciated and surprisingly not well-known. He averaged 13 ppg and 8.8 rpg in the lockout-shortened season, but head coach Scott Skiles’ penchant for playing the hot hand killed Ilyasova’s ability to get consistent minutes. He’s skilled enough to be an everyday starter and quite possibility a double-double machine, so should the team end up with a new coach at some time this season (which isn’t out of the question in the last year of Skiles’ current contract), he could really blow up in a major way. He may blow up in a major way, anyhow.
The Best New Addition: While John Henson has the ability to turn into a really nice player, there’s no guarantee that he’ll do that, while newly-acquired center Samuel Dalembert is a proven commodity who, though on the downswing of his career, can still help plug up the Andrew-Bogut-sized defensive hole the Bucks had before making a draft-week trade that swapped some picks and jettisoned some role players in exchange for Sam. He should help the team out defensively and is the likely opening day starter at center.
– Joel Brigham
Who We Like
1. Brandon Jennings: Back in February, Jennings talked about exploring his options in free agency, and that sent Bucks fans reeling as the comments could be read to mean that Jennings already had his bags packed and one foot out the door. While we don’t know if that’s necessarily true, there is a strong possibility that this ends up being Jennings’ last season with Milwaukee, and in a contract year he seems like exactly the kind of player that could absolutely explode offensively. It’s hard to know if that will be a good thing or a bad thing for the rest of the team, but one way or another you can count on Brandon Jennings playing his tail off this year.
2. Monta Ellis: Like Jennings, Ellis does have the opportunity to leave at the end of the season should opt to use his early termination option and leave $11 million on the table in 2013-14 so that he can explore free agency. Again, it’s too early to know if that’s what he’ll do, but for all the same reasons Jennings will need to parade around offensively every night, Ellis might, too. This feels like the kind of year where both players’ scoring numbers go up, while their assist numbers go down. Still, we like Ellis, because we know from experience that those scoring numbers can go up quite a bit.
3. Ersan Ilyasova: After having quietly emerged as one of the best shooting big men in the league last year, Ilyasova has broken out as a guy that could potentially become the face of the franchise in the catastrophic event that the team loses both of the two guys mentioned above. He shoots 45 percent from three and 49 percent from the field, and it’s hard to keep that 29-point, 25-rebound game last season from lingering in the back of our collective mind. The kid is good, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t continue to break out in 2012-13.
4. Luc Mbah a Moute: He’s about as far from flashy as an NBA player can get, but there’s just something likeable about a role player who steps right into the game and starts playing the toughest defense anybody on the other team is likely to see from the Bucks all night. He doesn’t put up huge numbers, but he grinds it out every single game, which is why the fans and his teammates love him so much.
5. Doron Lamb: While there were plenty of twists and turns in the first round of this past June’s draft, the second round was, as usual, pretty tame. Lamb, however, was one of the bright spots in this year’s second round, and Milwaukee has been pretty much universally praised for getting a player that skilled that late in the draft. Lamb is a really good scorer who can do some damage from behind the arc, and he’ll be a great role guy to help spell Jennings or Ellis once in a while. Not too far down the road, he could end up with an even bigger role than that, which is exactly what the Bucks are hoping for. You know what other good shooter from a great NCAA hoops program fell to Milwaukee in second round? Michael Redd. They’d love to strike gold like that a second time with Lamb.
– Joel Brigham
Scoring points probably won’t be a problem for the Bucks next season. It certainly wasn’t last year, when they finished fifth in the league in scoring with 99 points per game. They had five guys average double-figures last season, all of whom are still with the team, and as we’ve mentioned already Ellis and Jennings are quite a bit more than just so-so offensive talents. This is also a very deep team, with loads of respectable veterans lined up to spell the starters without a huge drop-off in talent. The frontcourt, in particular, is stacked with solid players, and while none of them are necessarily great, most of them can hold down the fort. There simply aren’t a lot of bums on this roster.
– Joel Brigham
Despite scoring the fifth most points of any team in the league, Milwaukee was 20th in team field goal percentage, and it’s no real secret why. Ellis and Jennings score a ton of points, but it takes them a ton of shots to get it done, and that can be a problem. They also weren’t particularly adept defensively last season (they were 22nd in points allowed), but that should improve with some of the new additions. Their turnover differential was -1.8, which was 28th in the league and obviously not good. Credit that to Jennings and Ellis, too.
– Joel Brigham
What Needs To Be Said On Opening Day….
There is no doubt in my mind we will be athletic and fun to watch. But athletic and fun to watch doesn’t necessarily mean we are a winning basketball team. To get to that point, we need to develop chemistry offensively and we need to apply a strategy defensively that masks some of our weaknesses, especially on the interior. Brandon, Monta, a lot of people are going to be talking about how you two are able to get along – it’s not hard for you guys to show them any doubts they have are premature. The real key is finding ways to integrate our frontcourt into the picture so we don’t become too perimeter oriented. Our goal this year is to get better every game, and create a long-term culture for success. We do that one day at a time, everyone working together.
– Anthony Macri and Brett Koremenos
The Burning Question
How attached should we get to this team, really?
Brandon Jennings looks headed for restricted free agency next summer, and Monta Ellis could very well become an unrestricted free agent at the same time should he exercise his ETO. Head coach Scott Skiles is in the final year of his contract, too, and nobody has any idea whether he’ll make it through the whole season, let alone be retained long-term. Sam Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Beno Udrih and Joel Pryzbilla all will see their contracts up ten months from now, as well, meaning this is an organization that may be 50 percent (or more) different a year from now. The best hope for retaining the star power this team has worked so hard to attain is making the playoffs, which the Bucks could reasonably do. If they don’t, however, you can all but kiss the majority of this group goodbye, and if that happens it’s hello perennial mediocrity for Milwaukee.
– Joel Brigham